When we start working with a company, during the first couple of weeks we interview every member of staff, face to face, confidentially, to see what’s really happening where the rubber meets the road.

From the thousands of interviews over the years, we’ve gathered some very clear ideas about what works and what doesn’t work when trying to motivate and lead staff, and one key factor that comes up over and over again is the complaint “we don’t know what’s going on until the last minute, we never get to hear the full story”.
We’ve found that companies with well informed staff work better, the staff take more care, work more productively and work smarter, and they make you more money in the long term.

So how do YOU communicate with your people?

There are three basic types of communication necessary in business
1) Job or task based – what needs doing, how well it needs doing, systems and processes, safety, quality control etc with input feedback from staff
2) Personal Performance – each staff member needs to know exactly what is expected of them, how well they are doing, and what the future holds for them.
3) The Big Picture – how the company is doing, where it is going, what the future holds, prospects in the pipeline, recent successes, feedback from customers and the market.

We’ve had clients say to use “why should we tell the staff how the company is doing? We pay them, that’s enough”. Unfortunately that might be enough to keep the wheels turning, but no more than that.

When setting up an new business, it’s easy to design-in and implement the “habit” of communication from the start – but what about existing businesses that may not have all the good habits in place? (we won’t talk here about the bad habits – for example “management by waving your arms and shouting”)

Let’s focus on the first type of communication – Job or Task based – (Operational Management to use a bit of jargon)

• Start each year with an annual “State of the Nation” talk, which covers the big picture (#3 above), but also sets the scene for any operational changes, challenges or process improvement, for example the new H & S laws, introduction of ISO or Q Base, etc.
• Bring the timescale down to your management meetings with your department heads, or foremen, whoever directly guides production. How often do you have production meetings? Monthly is a good starting point, long enough to make changes, short enough to keep accountability going. These meetings must be recorded simply and effectively, with the issue, the decision, who is going to do what about it, and by when. Next meeting – tick off the items accomplished, and don’t accept excuses (even from yourself) when things haven’t happened. H & S must be discussed at these meetings.
• Your supervisors, managers or foremen need to hold weekly “shop floor” or “toolbox” meetings to brief the staff on workflow, expected problems, and also update H & S hazards, remedials needed and actions taken. Again these meetings must be noted down in writing, same format – issue, decision, action to be taken, who and when.
• The last part of “job based” communication is how you get feedback and ideas from your team, and how those ideas are evaluated. Don’t put barriers in the way of your people’s thinking – and the old ‘suggestion box” method doesn’t work, by the way, unless you want to gather some fairly pointed suggestions about management!
• Make sure your supervisors ask staff for ideas and improvements, and give them a format for passing the ideas on. Periodically, take the time personally to talk to your teams in each area of the business about what could be improved – a simple 10 minute toolbox meeting is often enough to get people contributing, or maybe a shared lunch can get the ideas flowing.
• Walk the floor and look for evidence of delays or frustrations – materials cluttering work stations, stock building up in despatch, people looking for tools, waiting for assistance. Ask, what is causing the delay, what could be done to fix it? Make a note, and action it. Deal with the constraint and ease the flow.
• Even when an idea from the shop floor is impractical, always make a note of it, say “we’ll look into that…” and always get back to the person who made the suggestion with “well, we’ve thought it through and we don’t think it will work AT PRESENT because ……” “but thank you for your suggestion, keep it up”
• Never just flatten ideas with “Nah, we’ve tried that, didn’t work” Remember things change with time, and what didn’t work last year, might just work this year with changing conditions, machines, and materials.
Take advantage of these points – work at developing the “habit” of effective, regular communication on operational points – and you’ll see the results very quickly.
Why “Manager or Mushroom Farmer”? Staff feel they are being kept in the dark, and the quality of information they are fed feels like S*!# – just the right conditions for mushrooms to grow, but not for humans! So, are YOU a manager, or a mushroom farmer?